DALLAS — When Judah Bell arrived at SMU in 2017, like most true freshmen he saw himself not only playing for the Mustangs, but also making a meaningful contribution.
However, the former Bishop T.K. Gorman wide receiver ended up redshirting and last season played 11 games for the Ponies, seven starts, and had eight receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown.
Now, as he heads into his third year in the program as a redshirt sophomore where he’s poised to be an even bigger part of the SMU offense, he realizes redshirting in 2017 was indeed the right call.
“It helped a lot just because everybody that comes out of high school, no matter how prepared you are, college is different. Looking back on it now, I’m glad I redshirted because for one, it helped me get my body right. And it helped me adjust to the speed of the game,” Bell said.
“I’m going into my sophomore year on the field and I feel like I’m just now starting to get some things figured out about my game and my role on the team. Being a junior instead of having one year left, I’ve got two more years to build on.”
Currently at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, the Tyler native wants to build on the solid showing he had last season for SMU in its first year under new coach Sonny Dykes and use those lessons to take an even bigger leap this fall.
“Last year was just helping the team out in every way I can. Going into this year, just being more of that security blanket type of guy (is my goal),” Bell said. “I’m probably the biggest receiver we have, so it doesn’t matter who’s guarding me, be able to make a play on the ball. I know that’s what the coaches and the quarterbacks are expecting of me this year. I’m just taking over that role.”
Specifically, he wants to be a go-to guy on third down or in other key situations for SMU’s quarterback, which is currently a battle between sophomore Willie Brown, who started three games in 2018, and graduate transfer Shane Buechele, formerly at Texas.
Bell has enjoyed getting to know Buechele, a son of former Rangers third baseman Steve Buechele.
“He’s looking good. I think it’s real good competition between him and Willie,” Bell said. “They’re both pushing each other to be better, which is good. I think that’s going to help the team overall. He’s a funny guy. I know he’s just that type of guy that doesn’t really have a problem with anybody. He just knows how to get them loose and he’s got great charisma, a good guy.”
Physically, he knows that in order to reach his full potential at SMU and become the player the Mustangs recruited him to be, he needs to effectively utilize his 6-3 frame to rise above opposing linebackers and defensive backs to make big plays.
His approach to what could be a breakout 2019 season is not just physical, the mental side also plays a big role for this young pass catcher.
“It’s just every day coming out with the mindset that I’ve got to be the most physical player on offense. The defense knows that, so they come out an attack me, which is good because it pushes me to be better,” Bell said. “I just got to do that every day. I just got to do it better than the day before. It’s just a mindset.”
Bell is part of an SMU receiving corps which is headlined by senior James Proche, who finished last season with 1,199 yards and 12 touchdowns to earn first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors. And as Bell states, it’s a talented, speedy group with an almost unlimited ceiling.
“(We can be) the best. It’s simply that,” Bell said. “It’s not just me, but everybody, we’ve just got to push ourselves. Whatever our role is in the offense, we’ve got to push ourselves to be the best in that role every day.”
Of course, Judah Bell now realizes that had his coaches not had him redshirt as a true freshman, he might not be in position to be one of the stars of this talented group of receivers in 2019, a lesson he never forgets.
“For any player out there, if that (redshirting) is what the coaching staff wants to do with you, look at it as a positive and not a negative,” he said.
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco.